Outsourcing children’s services in Northamptonshire would see company ‘profiting’ from vulnerable youngsters

Cllr Danielle Stone
Cllr Danielle Stone

Moves to outsource Northamptonshire County Council’s children’s services would see a new mutual company ‘profiting from vulnerable children’ according to the county’s Labour group.

Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phippsville) said she was ‘horrified’ by the measures announced in the ‘County Plan’, last week, which proposes to hand the majority of the council’s services over to four ‘mutual’ companies.

The moves would help the council save £148 million, it claims, but Councillor Stone said handing children’s services over to the open market could have dangerous consequences in years to come.

She believed a mutual company could introduce charges for certain services and she has some serious concerns of how the council would monitor the performance of such a company.

“I’m full of horror to think that the council would be making money out of vulnerable children,” she said.

“There is a risk that in the free market, a company will have to meet the market demands and, further down the line, costs will be introduced.

“But the main issue I have is how much democratic control we would have over such an organisation. How accountable will it be if things go wrong?”

Currently the county council has a statutory obligation to provide a range of services for children classed as being in a ‘vulnerable’ situation.

They include running family group counselling sessions, short breaks for youngsters and support services for disabled children.

But with the county council proposing to reduce its staff base from around 4,000 to a core of around 150, Councillor Stone has questioned whether such a slim team would have the capability to monitor the performance of four large mutual ‘companies’.

She said: “When you look at the large number of contracts this council will have to monitor, it will be impossible to keep track of them all.”

But deputy leader of the county council, Councillor Heather Smith, said the council would still have direct responsibility for a new children’s service mutual company and said it was likely she would sit on its board.

The company would be able to make income for the council by selling on some of its services to other authorities.

Councillor Smith said: “The statutory responsibility for protecting vulnerable children rests with the county council; that is my personal responsibility.

“Whichever way we run a children’s service, that will stay with us. We will be accountable and we will retain the state responsibilities.

“There are a lot of organisations already out there that run children’s homes and services, that work with a number of councils already.

“There is no reason why we can’t set up our own stand-alone organisation like many others before us.”

Councillor Smith said many adult care services had already transferred over to Olympus Care Services, which provides things like care equipment for the home and in-house care for people with dementia.

She added that the transfer of powers to a mutual company would not happen until the council’s service has been stabilised, following its ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating in 2013.